DVD REVIEWS – SEP 13, 2007

THIS WEEK IN DVD’S – Sep 13, 2007


  • Desperate Housewives: The Complete Third Season (Buena Vista)


Desperate Housewives ain’t much of an innovator – one could argue that it’s been beating the same dead horse since its zeitgeist-inciting premiere three years ago – but damn if it doesn’t have an uncanny ability to give its audience what it wants. Desperate Housewives: The Complete Third Season (Buena Vista) – cashing in on its catty nature by dubbing itself ‘The Dirty Laundry Edition’ – offers little in terms of unique plot development, but has heaps of soap opera cud for us Nielsen cows to keep chewing on happily.

In this third season, Kyle MacLachlan shows up as Marcia Cross’ fiancé – with a did-he-or-didn’t-he? Deep, dark secret (he kinda sorta almost killed his first wife – oops!) – and Dougray Scott puts in some screen time as the man who swoops in and picks up on Teri Hatcher while she’s mourning the fact that her husband is in a coma after a hit-and-run accident (hey – a girl’s gotta get her jollies somehow, folks!). Again, for anyone approaching the DH for this first time, this third season presents moronically dense plot lines and character arcs that would be over-the-top on Days of Our Lives, but if you’ve been there since the beginning, there’s a very real chance you’ll slurp up Desperate Housewives: The Complete Third Season like a delicious (and probably cocaine-laced) applesauce.

And bless the ladies of Wisteria Lane for loading their third-season box set with goodness. Video and audio quality here are first-rate – we get anamorphic 16×9 transfers of each episode as well as accompanying Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mixes – and yeah, the handful of featurettes included aren’t eye-opening, but the six minutes of deleted scenes here flesh out a couple of things and we have a short blooper reel to round things out.


  • Death Proof: Special Edition (Genius Products/The Weinstein Company)


First, let’s state the obvious: Quentin Tarantino’s and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse was both the standout motion picture of the first half of 2007 and the most painfully mis-advertised blockbuster in years (nobody saw it; nobody cared). That being said, though, the 2-disc Death Proof: Special Edition (Genius Products/The Weinstein Company) is not only a mixed bag, it’s simultaneously a work of sheer brilliance and a pain in the ass.

The good: Well, the movie. Quentin’s Death Proof – his half of the Grindhouse pantheon – is one of the more well-oiled, atypically engaging movies one’s likely to see. Yeah, the car chases/crashes are extraordinary (truly ones for the record books), but what really gets under your skin with this extended version of the film – it runs about twenty minutes longer than the theatrically-released edition – is the way Quentin’s actresses talk to each other. Yeah, it’s stilted and unrealistic, but for some reason it works.

The bad: Even with a second disc of bonuses, there’s a TON of stuff missing. Gone are the fake trailers that made Grindhouse such a goofy fun-fest, and we get nothing in terms of a commentary or definitive look at the film. Sure, the video transfer is stellar (with fake scratches and all) and the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is loud and rowdy, but even though a handful of the featurettes on disc two engage – the behind-the-scenes car crash stuff is nothing short of awesome – this DVD release is a shell of what it could be.

I’d bet $100 right now that a bells-and-whistles Grindhouse: Ultimate Edition DVD set will be available within a year. Mark my words.


  • The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Genius Products/The Weinstein Company)


Ken Loach’s war-themed work has always maintained an integrity that both allows a space for him outside the glamorizing sheen of the Hollywood machine – his battle pictures do not showcase John Williams scores or A-list Hollywood star turns – yet it’s this stoic other-ness that has kept a widespread acclaim for the director at bay. That changed a bit with his Palme d’Or-winning The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Genius Products/The Weinstein Company), but as good a film as it is, Barley nevertheless stupefies.

It’s not that The Wind That Shakes the Barley isn’t a well-made film – its story of Irish freedom fighting against the British that leads to a full blown family vs. family civil war is rife with implicit drama and intrigue – but this writer gets the impression from Loach’s movie that politics and historical alignment is far more important than earnest emotional impact. Maybe that’s an aesthetic bent of Loach’s against the Hollywood machine – perhaps engaging empathetic emotional entanglement is exactly the kind of thing that makes Tinsel Town war pictures so gratuitous and sexy (as heartbreakingly gruesome as it is, Saving Private Ryan is never not sexy) – but for my money, it keeps his film from being anything more than the filmic equivalent of a political speech or graduate thesis.

Loach himself gets a chance to discuss his methods with the film on the commentary track included here (along with the film’s historical advisor, Donal O’Driscooll), and the result is an impressive appendix to Barley’s overall heft – knowing the methods to Loach’s madness definitely makes this writer respect the film more (even though I’m still not sure I like it). Also included here are a capable video transfer and front-heavy Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix and a short featurette that looks at Loach’s past works.


  • The House of Elliott: The Complete Collection (Acorn Media)


This writer grew up in a house where Upstairs, Downstairs was frequently playing – for some reason my decidedly Yankee parents found it to be riveting. However, where that show aimed to investigate the nuances that really separated the elite from the servitude class, The House of Elliott (also created by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, who were behind UD) looks to do more – it wants to take the rich and make them poor. And The House of Elliott: The Complete Collection (Acorn Media) accomplishes this with class and distinction.

This 12-DVD collection features all three sections of the series – that aired between 1991 and 1994 – and while the first few discs showcases a show with excellent ideals yet hit-and-miss execution, the show finds a sure footing by the second installment that it doesn’t lose until its finale. This story of two sisters of privilege who become penniless after their father’s death isn’t exactly the kind of series that would engage a reality-TV-hooked TV audience, but what’s so refreshing about The House of Elliott is its delicious sense of class. Yes, our protagonist sisters have to rely on their fashion sense to survive in 1920s London – all they retain from their halcyon days as debutantes is their ability to design and make clothes – but the series balances their elitist aims with their working class surroundings with the kind of eloquent narrative grace that can’t help but remind viewers of Bleak House or Great Expectations.

This 34-episode set is standard fare, however – video and audio quality are just so-so (British series from this period are notoriously devoid of technical prowess), and the major bonus feature is an interview with actress Louise Lombard (text-based character profiles and still galleries are also here, but they’re not much to write home about). However, if you’re looking for a TV show to fill the void of the summer primetime doldrums until the new season starts up, you might find The House of Elliott to be the nice warm cup of tea you’ve been waiting for.  


  • Les Enfants Terribles (Criterion)


Cinephiles love an excuse to argue about aesthetic conundrums that the mainstream movie world could care less about, and that’s something that the new edition of Les Enfants Terribles (Criterion) gets wonderfully right.

This film by Jean-Pierre Melville (based on the novel by French luminary Jean Cocteau) has been in the French-film crosshairs since its release by critics and audiences who argue about whose film it really is. This saga of a brother and sister who are seriously too close to one another has the kind of elegant dialogue transaction that is apparent in other Cocteau works (for my money, it’s similar in that regard to La Belle et la Bete), but it’s also coupled with an exceptional filmic economy that only Melville (helmer of the inimitable Bob le Flambeur) could accomplish.

And in the bonus section of this disc, Criterion goes all-out to present both sides of this Melville/Cocteau ‘controversy’. We get interviews with cast and crew members who discuss who was really behind the reigns of the film, as well as a commentary track from scholar Gilbert Adair, who addresses aspects of each filmmaker’s signatures as the film progresses. Also, Around Jean Cocteau is included here – it’s a short look at the creative relationship between the two giants and how that influenced Les Enfants Terribles’ end result.

So it goes without saying that if the push-pull argument between aesthetic styles of Jean-Pierre Melville and Jean Cocteau doesn’t engage you, this Criterion disc won’t do anything for you, but any self-respecting cinephile should really investigate this one fully: In addition to sporting a lovely video transfer (and the aforementioned stellar bonuses), Les Enfants Terribles is a helluva movie – outside the ‘who made it?’ controversy, it stands alone as an exceptional example of the kind of intimate, dream-laden filmmaking that made both Melville and Cocteau cinematic mavericks.